Last month I called for a movement to restore the elements of our culture that were undermined or destroyed by the left. Thankfully, Jeffrey Kaplan the owner of Retrobrands has filed applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in hopes of acquiring rights for Uncle Ben’s, Aunt Jemima, and Eskimo Pie. He states products, like Aunt Jemima, are no longer derogatory as they apply to today.
Inside the cottage industry trying to revive Aunt Jemima and other brands with racist roots
By Beth Kowitt, December 8, 2020, Fortune
This summer the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for racial justice spilled over into the most unlikely of places—the supermarket aisle.
Quaker Oats, a PepsiCo subsidiary, acknowledged that the origins of its Aunt Jemima brand, with overt ties to American slavery, “are based on racial stereotypes” and said it would change its name and logo. Mars echoed that promise with its Uncle Ben’s rice line, declaring that the company stood “in solidarity with the Black community.” Dreyer’s, the parent company of Eskimo Pie ice cream bars, said it recognized that the term Eskimo was derogatory and would rebrand in its commitment to “being a part of the solution on racial equality.”
The companies, aware for decades of the racist history of the names and images of certain brands, had tried in the past to update them. Quaker removed the kerchief from the Aunt Jemima figure in 1989, for example, and in 2007, Mars “promoted” Uncle Ben from butler to executive. But during the 2020 summer of racial reckoning in the U.S., the companies decided the value of these famous brands no longer outweighed the risk to their broader reputations.
Activists who had pushed for the changes celebrated—but so did those operating within an obscure corner of the trademark world. The fact that the companies were dropping these iconic brand names meant that someone else could eventually obtain and use them instead. After the food giants made their announcements, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) received three trademark applications apiece for Aunt Jemima and Eskimo Pie and one for Uncle Ben’s, with the applicants indicating they wanted to use the marks on food items.
“Trademark abandonment is a new kind of industry. It’s a new kind of gold rush,” says Jeff Kaplan, whose company Retrobrands filed applications for all three marks. His operation acquires trademarks for brands that companies have let lapse—Chipwich and Victrola are part of his portfolio—and either licenses the names or manufactures the revamped products himself.
But giving a second life to brands rooted in racist stereotypes—ones that big companies have deemed too problematic to maintain—is a vastly different proposition from reviving those that capitalize on innocent nostalgia. Kaplan feels that brands like Aunt Jemima have been sufficiently updated and still have big markets, which include Black customers who he says agree that the brands are no longer derogatory.
PHOTO CREDIT: Eskimo pie vendor in the USSR, 1935, By Eirik Sundvor (1902 – 1992)Municipal Archives of Trondheim – Flickr: Gateliv i Sovjetunionen – Eskimo-Pai (1935), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29560197